An ancient Sanskrit text on the nature of Reality
James Swartz © 1996
A SIMPLE TECHNIQUE (to get to absolute Silence)
The following simple technique, as old as the hills, introduces the meditator, the seeker, to the limitless I, the sought.
Our relationship with the body reflects in how we sit. If holding the body up is difficult for physical reasons, lying down is acceptable if the tendency to sleep can be overcome as the mind empties. Some go for the full lotus, the less physical the half-lotus or the simple meditative poses evolved by Hatha Yoga. In India where yoga evolved people have no furniture so sitting cross-legged on the ground is second nature. If you’re forever having to smile benignly through the pain in your feet because they’re resting on top of the thighs, it’s best to opt for an easy chair. Except for the attempt to awaken dormant energies in the body, a practice not recommended for neophytes, the position of the body isn’t critical. It should be comfortable and the meditator prepared to take a short vacation from it.
On the mental level the pose should be kingly or queenly: gracious, upright, poised, noble, and generous. A careful, sensitive, inquiring state of mind, like a botanist patiently examining a delicate flower, is suggested. The meditator should think of meditation as an afternoon on the beach, not a shift in the mines.
When the eyes are closed and you’ve settled in, what’s next? Ask for help. Obviously, if you knew who you were you wouldn’t be meditating in the first place, so by sitting down you are really saying you don’t know anything, the most essential ingredient. Most who get as far as the idea of meditation believe in a higher power, a God, a spirit guide, a guru figure, the saints, the universe, “guidance,” a deity -whatever. Irrespective of the invocation’s form, the limitless I, will respond. The Self put the meditation idea in the mind in the first place so everything that needs to happen will happen.
Make a resolution to leave your worries and involvements behind. It’s good to meditate in a place that isn’t used for other activities. Feel satisfied you are making an effort to meditate. Third, clear the mind of memories of previous meditations, good or bad. Trying to improve on a bad meditation or reproduce a good one is futile and only agitates the mind.
After the invocation the first part of the meditation involves scanning and relaxing the body from the feet up. If you have a hard time relaxing your feet use a little visualization. Imagine you are in your feet as a ball of warm peaceful light-filled Consciousness, and expand your presence until the feet are hollow. Then bore your way up the legs relaxing all the muscles, releasing tension in the ankles, knees, and hips. Take your time. It may seem a cheap trick but isn’t as farfetched as it seems because the body is a vast field of consciousness, not a constipated little ball of matter. If the “ball of light” doesn’t work physically relax your way up the legs. Spend a bit of time working on the abdominal and stomach regions to neutralize the lower part of the trunk. Because they are associated with the power and fear chakra and waste removal these organs often carry negative energy. Move up and explore the chest. Its connection with the emotional center causes angry and unforgiving feelings to lodge there, so the muscles are often tight. Leisurely scan this area leaving it light-filled and relaxed; then work up to the neck and shoulders. Much mental tension accumulates here so take your time.
When it’s relaxed move out to the tips of the fingers and hollow out the arms like you did the legs. Then redo the neck and shoulders. The face we carry around in the world usually isn’t our real face so we need to do something to get it back to normal. Work around the chin, mouth, and cheeks first, then up to the eyes and forehead. You’ll find lots of vibrations hovering around these regions so release the muscles supporting them and let them dissolve. When you’ve finished, the face should be expressionless. A smile or frown means too much energy’s been left behind. Aim for the indifferent look of a Buddha, or the peaceful face of the dead.
The idea behind all this scanning and relaxing is to prepare the body for your exit. Thinking of the body as an automobile and yourself as the driver may be helpful. The driver has returned from a long day on the road, is going to park the car in the garage, and enter his or her warm comfortable home for the evening. Before you park it for good, check the whole thing to see that it’s comfortable in its seat and turn your attention to the breath.
The breath, as you have probably noticed, goes in and out nicely on its own. The idea in the first part of this meditation is to watch the breath, not breathe consciously, although you may notice that observing the breath ‘consciousizes’ it a bit. Not to worry. It will soon settle down and return to its normal pattern. Although a sophisticated yogic science of breath control has evolved, working with the breath is not profound. As far as meditation is concerned we don’t want to control anything. Control means ego and a lot of work. And the point of meditation is to relax, not just physically but mentally. Watching the breath gives the mind something to do, keeps it out of trouble.
As mentioned above, the mind always wants a bit of change, a little glamour or excitement and doesn’t appreciate hard work. Before long the meditator will find watching the breath boring. But boring’s good. Learning to enjoy boredom is one of the benefits of meditation.
At this point I give the mind a challenge by training my attention to ride on the breath as it goes in and out. When the breath is out the attention is out and when the breath comes flowing in, the attention comes with it, as if riding on an upside-down swing.
Of course the mind will have its little trips, so you might discover it trekking in the Andes or eating chateaubriand at the Twenty One club between the in-breath and the out-breath. The meditator should pull it back; try to synchronize it with the breath. You don’t have to be one hundred percent, get the mind to ride perfectly on every breath. Don’t bother to get upset if it doesn’t work immediately. Take your time. It will come. Anyone can do it.
Meditation’s not about the breath anyway. The breath is just a tool. How long should one work with the breath? There’s no hard and fast rule, sometimes five or ten minutes, sometimes longer. What you’re looking for is a sign that the mind is getting quiet because it settles down quickly when synchronized with the breath.
If you see that the mind and breath are synchronizing, use surplus attention to release pent-up thoughts and feelings on the out-breath. Don’t relate to or analyze the thoughts at this point, simply pay attention to what you’re doing, and let the mind empty on its own. Just as the out-breath cleanses the body, releasing thoughts detoxifies the mind. From a meditative perspective, the meditator’s relationship to the thoughts is more important than the thoughts themselves. Later when you’re seeing from the Self it may be helpful to analyze them, even though ultimately all thoughts are useless. At this point don’t worry about losing them, they’ll be back. The mind will never completely empty, so don’t worry. The point is to take a little pressure off, help it quiet down.
The mind is becoming quiet when you start to be conscious of all sorts of sounds you weren’t previously aware of. You never hear the clock ticking because the mind, formerly occupied with its thoughts, is emptying. You may hear the heart beat, the scratching of the breath as it goes in and out, snippets of conversation taking place blocks away, the hum of the kitchen refrigerator, a fly buzzing lazily in the adjoining room. The thoughts may be amplified, larger than life, or slower, as if they were slogging through molasses. You might start picking up on them as they start rather than at the end of their cycle.
You will notice these things because you are now surrounded by a bubble of Silence which, depending on the quietude of the mind, may be hardly noticeable or roar as it does out on the Great Plains in the dead of a summer night.
When the Silence appears as a tangible presence, take your attention from the breath and fix it on the Silence. Because it’s served its purpose, the breath should drop out of consciousness, or seem very light, faint, far away, irrelevant. Sometimes the mind gets completely swallowed by the silence and you find yourself deep within your Self, unaware of the breath, the noises in the room, your thoughts, absolutely everything - a state similar to conscious sleep. Time dissolves and you are overcome with an ecstatic peacefulness, difficult to describe.
Many unusual experiences can happen when the mind is quiet. Let them happen, don’t cling. All experience, like thought, is essentially transitory, not subject to ego control. And the purpose of meditation is not to produce specific pleasurable experiences but to inquire into the nature of the Self and the mind. Unless you’re aiming for nirvikalpa samadhi, the state without thought, which will not give Self knowledge see that you remain alert and allow the senses and mind to function. The presence of thought does not affect the Silence. The ideal situation is to observe the thoughts and sounds appear into and disappear out of the Silence like phantoms. The silent peaceful Awareness in which they appear is experienced as a rocklike, real, luminous and eternal presence. The experience of the Silence is the essence of meditation because it lets the meditator observe firsthand the insubstantiality and unreality of the body/mind instrument, in a way reading books and listening to lectures can never do.
If the ego insists on intruding, making itself uncomfortable in the Silence, trying to distract like a needy child, you can teach it to surrender, allow the thoughts and feelings to arise and fall without interference. I think of the Silence as the altar of the inner temple and take great pleasure witnessing the thoughts and feelings arise out of and disappear back into It. The discipline of meditation involves a struggle with the ego to keep attention fixed on the Silence. If the Silence is particularly deep or radiant the ego will be so stunned it will surrender completely, like an awestruck kid at a carnival. But this is not always the case, not because the Silence is unattractive but because powerful samskaras carry the attention far afield.
One wouldn’t think to visualize or chant anything at this time because the experience of the Silence itself is fascinating and fulfilling. However, sometimes the mantra arises spontaneously, chanting itself. Occasionally, when a particularly subtle part of the Unconscious is active, wonderful inner visions manifest.
The meditation is not creating the Silence, although it may seem so. The Silence is the substratum of all experience, the self-luminous Consciousness that is the source of every perception - the limitless I. The meditation technique simply withdraws enough consciousness from the body and mind to allow the ever-present and apparently-hidden Silence to manifest.
Once the meditator is proficient in contacting the Silence the question of what the Silence is and what sort of relationship one wants will arise. Although there are no rules, I like to encourage the meditator to explore the boundaries between his or her waking/dreaming self and the Silence. The Silence is the most tangible manifestation of the Self, the realization of which frees one from suffering. There are many ways to relate to the Self but I like to see it as an intimate friendly lover, in whose presence I feel totally comfortable. Try surrendering, melting into Its compassionate embrace, allowing the watcher, the concentrator, the meditator, to dissolve into it. When the ego opens up to the Silence its cleansing waters flood in, healing body and mind.
The Silence may not seem so much like silence as Peace, a sense of being completely at rest, fulfilled, and unconcerned, the “peace that passeth understanding.”
Or as inexplicable bubbling blissfullness.
Or limitlessness, emptiness, and fullness.
Contact of the mind with the Self can be described in many ways, all equally valid, but experience of the Self through the mind is not Self- Knowledge, Enlightenment. Enlightenment is the re-discovery of oneself as the Self.